Top four microbattery patent holders could ‘block’ development
Today solid state lithium microbatteries are only commercialized by few players: PowerPaper, Cymbet, Infinite Power Solutions and ST Microelectronics, says the report from KnowMade. In parallel, Johnson Battery Technology, Front Edge Technology and I-Ten are working on prototypes and expect to commercialize them within two years. FET for example is building a production line for its 0.1mm to 0.4mm thick NanoEnergy cells with an annual capacity of 200,000 pieces of 1-mAh cells.
In its latest patent landscape analysis, KnowMade found enforceable patents have reached a critical level worldwide. Several companies stand out by their strong IP position and first patent litigations have recently appeared. French research laboratory CEA is still the main patent holder around the world, but according to the KnowMade analysis, Cymbet, Polyplus Battery, Infinite Power Solutions and Panasonic have the strongest patent portfolios with a real IP blocking potential.
While the market was just US$7 m in 2015, it is expected to grow to US$ 400 million by 2026. “The strong IP position is essential for companies to grow their microbatteries business,” said Dr Fleur Thissandier from KnowMade. “More than 900 patented inventions related to microbatteries have been published worldwide up to May 2016 by more than 300 patent applications. Such figures reflect the dynamism of the microbatteries market.”
The first solid thin film battery was a lead battery patented in 1965 by Melpar in the US and since the 1980’s, patented microbatteries have been mainly lithium-based, with Hitachi/Hitachi-Maxell patenting the first Lithium solid thin film batteries. The patenting activity on microbatteries really took off over the 1998-2002 period with the creation of pure play microbattery companies (Cymbet, Polyplus Batteries, Infinite Power Solutions, Johnson Battery Technology, Front Edge Technology) and the IP involvement of Panasonic and CEA.
A second wave of patent publications started in 2007, mainly originating from semiconductor manufacturers such as Semiconductor Energy Laboratory and Sumitomo and equipment suppliers Applied Materials and Ulvac. Currently, more than 800 patents are granted, mainly in the US and Japan, and more than 750 patent applications are pending, mainly in Europe and US. Overall, patent filings peaked in 2013, and seem to have been slowing down since then.
“We believe the significant ratio of patents in force and the large number of patent applications still in the pipeline worldwide is an indication of the technology maturity heralding a future ramp-up of the microbattery market,” says the report.